Prof. Şükrü Halûk Akalın

The President of the Turkish Language Institution

Today the Turkic language is spoken by almost 220 million people and with the greatest number of speakers, forms the largest branch of the Altaic language family.

Brief History of Turkish Language

The history of the written Turkic language begins with the Orhon inscriptions which were discovered in the Orhon Valley in the 7th and 8th Centuries. With the development and use of the language found in the Orhon inscriptions and the information from various sources in neighboring countries, the beginnings of the written Turkic language goes even further back in history. Findings from the recent discovery, translation and reading of these Orhon inscriptions further support this fact. Moreover, through comparative phonetics and morphology studies and the Turkic loanwords found in other languages, important data have been acquired showing just how old Turkic is. The 168 words of Turkic origin in the Sumerian language have proved to be Turkic, thus supporting the idea that Sumerian and Turkic are the same age. The oldest known Turkic text was discovered in a 4th Century bowl BC found among Esik cairn findings and showed two lines of writing similar to the Orhon writings. Some words and two lines belonging to one Hun dirge in Chinese annuals indicate it may be about 4th Century AD Turkic. However, the first major literary texts are Göktürk inscriptions erected in honor of Tonyukukuk (725), Bilge Khan (731), Köl Tigin (732). Divanü Lugati’t Türk, which is the first dictionary and grammar book of Turkic language, was written by Mahmud Kashgari in 1072. This work includes nine thousand words and is not only a dictionary and grammar book, but also a monumental source book with information about Turkic written language, regional accents and cultural values. Mahmud Kashgari named his work “Divanü Lugati’t Türk” meaning “The Dictionary of Turkic Dialects” by bringing together the vocabulary of Karakhanid, Uighur, Oghuz, Kipchak, Kyrgyz and other relative societies. This provides us with scientific evidence that Mahmud Kashgari identified more than twenty written languages and dialects as Turkic. With the passage of time these written languages and dialects continued to develop in their written form and into use as national languages, and today they share many common language elements.

Geography of the Turkic Language

Within an approximately 12 million square kilometer region starting from the North Polar Sea up to India, from inside the People’s Republic of China through to the end point of Europe, the most widespread and useful language is the Turkic language, which forms the largest branch of the Altaic language family.

During his travels in the 19th Century the famous Turkologist, A. H. Vambery, noted that Turkic was the most widespread language in this region. He realized that if one knew Turkic, he could make this trip easily from the Balkans through Manchuria. Today this region is even larger than before. During the 1960s many Turkic people emigrated to the industrialized European countries primarily for the purposes of studying and working. For this reason, the areas in which the Turkic language was spoken became even more widespread. It reached even further from the Balkans to the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Turkic language consists of twenty living written language branches which have been spoken and written for at least the last one thousand years in the settled communities of Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as other areas. These countries are Turkish Republic, the Turkic Republics of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan (which became independent from the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), Balkan countries, Russian Federation, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the People’s Republic of China.

Although the majority of them are citizens of the Turkish Republic, there are approximately six million Turkic people living in the European countries. There are also many Turkic people living in the other non-member states of the European Union, however, these Turkic people are mostly the citizens of the country they live. For example, there are many Turks living as citizens in Bulgaria and also in Romania, a new member of the European Union. If we include the Turkic people living in other countries such as Macedonia and Kosovo there are more than seven million Turkic on the European continent. The language of the whole Turkic population in Europe is Turkey Turkish. The newspapers, journals, and mass media published and broadcasted by Turkic people in these countries use Turkish. Today, the Turkic language is living, spoken and used all over the world. It was brought by Turkic settlers to countries in the Arabian peninsula and North Africa and to various countries in North and South America, mainly the USA and Australia. Today the language is widely spoken and used in the world through various media to include satellite TV and radio broadcasting, internet, newspapers and journals published in foreign countries, and educational institutions and courses.

Languages and Turkic Language According to the Native Speakers

The speaker population order of the languages is made by using criteria such as native language, second language and foreign language. It is estimated that English has 2 billion speakers in terms of the native language, first language, second language and foreign language speakers. Chinese comes first when the order is made in terms of the native speakers. Though Chinese has eight different dialects, all with varied phoneme, morphological and vocabulary features, it is still considered as a single language. The same holds true for Hindi language with its many dialects as well as Urdu language. For languages which have the most speakers, Chinese comes first with Hindi in fourth place as the most spoken languages. Therefore, Turkic has to be accepted as one single language with its 220 million speakers. Using this criteria, the Turkic language is the fifth most widely spoken language.

Chinse 1.300.000.000 With all its dialects
English 427.000.000
Spanish 266.000.000
Hindi 260.000.000 With all its dialects
Turkic 220.000.000 With all its dialects
Arabic 181.000.000 With all its dialects
Portuguese 165.000.000
Bengali 162.000.000
Russian 158.000.000
Japanese 124.000.000
German 121.000.000
French 116.000.000

Teaching Turkish Language In the World

Other than native speakers, there are also first language, second language and foreign language speakers of the Turkic language dialects. It has been determined that Turkish has speakers in many countries all over the world. According to the Ethnologue Survey, there are 34 countries other than the Turkish Republic where Turkish speakers live. The recent collapse of the former Soviet Union and the Gulf War have brought a heightened focus to the importance of the Turkish Republic and to speakers of Turkic languages. These developments led to the establishment of new educational institutions for the purpose of teaching Turkish. New departments at the universities were also established, and courses at private teaching institutions were opened in the Turkic Republics and other countries.

At the present time, there are 87 countries where Turkish is taught in secondary schools. These courses were developed according to the Turkic population and the demand for Turkish language courses. The countries where Turkish is taught in at least one secondary school are: USA, Afghanistan, Germany, Angola, Argentina, Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia Herzogevina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina-Faso, Myanmar, Chad, Czech Republic, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Philippines, France, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, The Republic of South Africa, South Korea, Georgia, India, the Netherlands, Iraq, the Great Britain, Japan, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Kazakstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Laos, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Hungary, Madagascar, Macedonia, Malawi, the Maldives, Malaysia, Malian, Mexico, Mongolia, Moldova, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Pakistan, Papua, New Guinea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Taiwan, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Jordan, Vietnam and Yemen.

In some countries Turkish is taught at private educational institutions as well as at secondary schools. There are 46 countries where Turkish is taught at private educational institutions. The countries are: USA, Germany, Belgium, Belarus, Bosnia Herzogevina, Bulgaria, Algeria, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, the Netherlands, Iraq, the Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Colombia, Latvia, Lithuania, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Egypt, Mongolia, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Chile, Turkmenistan, Vietnam and Greece.

Educational courses are conducted in the Turkish language at universities in nine countries. These countries are: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia Herzogevina, Georgia, Iraq, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, and Turkmenistan.

There are Turkology departments in 28 countries where Turkish is taught and Turkish language and literature studies are conducted. These countries are: Germany, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia Herzogevina, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Sweden, Japan, Cameroon, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Colombia, Kosovo, Lithuania, Hungary, Egypt, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen.  


Today the Turkic language is a world language spoken within a 12 million square kilometer area by 220 million people. The origins of the language, which has 600,000 words in its vocabulary, date back to the oldest periods of history, and now it is studied and taught in almost one hundred countries. Turkish, a branch of the Turkic language, has been influenced by many languages including Chinese, Persian, Arabic and Hungarian, and more than 11,000 loanwords have been borrowed only from Turkish. More than 20,000 loanwords have been brought in and adapted from the Turkic languages to the other languages. Many Turkic words of origin have been taken from categories of clothing, food, and the military. In addition, many Turkic origin place names, where Turkic origin people lived throughout history, are still used today in world languages.

Turkic language is one of the most widespread and deep-rooted languages in the world and has made many significant contributions to world languages. Furthermore, as an important world language, Turkic is taught in many parts of the world and is also a subject of great interest and academic research.

Translated by Gülzemin ÖZRENK AYDIN


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